Thursday 25 February 2016

Review of 'The Life of Pablo' by Kanye West

After two years of teasingly drip-feeding us tracks (most of which didn’t make the final cut), a lot of tracklist rejigging and more name changes than Prince (first So God Help Me, then SWISH, then Waves and now The Life of Pablo), Kanye has finally decided to release his new album. But despite the long and drawn-out cooking process, it still feels half-baked.

Ima fix Wolves’ the rapper vowed on Twitter soon after the LP dropped – not that this particular track needs fixing. It's other spots on the album that lack polish – the shaky auto-tune at the end of ‘FML’, the disjointed beat backing ‘Famous’, the outro of ‘Hours’ that seems to trails off for hours, the end of ‘Fade’ that contrastingly seems to cut abruptly short (given the track title, wouldn’t a fade-out have been sensible?).

Already the Tidal version has been botched after someone accidentally uploaded the track ‘Facts’ twice instead of including the closer ‘Fade’. Given the news that Kanye might further edit this album, we may end up with several versions of the album floating around on the interwebz. This is not a good thing as some people seem to think. Kanye has not ‘reinvented the concept of an album’. Out of sheer clumsiness and indecision, he has simply released an unfinished product, and whilst it’s nice to see him attempting to fix it, I can’t help but feel that the damage is already done. It’s like selling a chair and then realising one of the legs was missing. It’s like handing in an essay and then asking to change it when the marks come back.

Kanye's new album

I’ve never been the biggest Ye fan in the world (that accolade belongs to Kanye himself), but I have always respected the wild wild West for being the creative spirit that he is. He doesn’t cater to pop appeal – he’s an artist, much like Pablo Picasso after whom this LP is christened, albeit without the stripy shirt.

Pablo Picasso

After all, despite being undercooked, this is a dish with a lot of interesting and imaginative flavours in it. The beats for one are brilliantly diverse and almost always left-field. ‘Feedback’ turns ordinarily tuneless guitar feedback into something truly tuneful. ‘Freestyle 4’ incorporates eerie strings and offbeat wooping synths creating something truly suspenseful. Then there’s ‘I Love Kanye’ which doesn’t have any instrumental at all – instead serving as an inventive a capella track about how his fans perceive him. I expected vomit-inducing narcissism but in fact it’s one of the more humble tracks here.

Rather encouragingly, there are several other glimpses of lyrical humility along the way. ‘Real Friends’ is a track about how he hasn’t always been a great friend, even slightly self-deprecating to a point: ‘I’m always blaming you, but what’s sad you’re not the problem’. And ‘Father Stretch My Hands pt. 2’ sees the musician realising he’s much like his dad, his work taking priority over friends and family: ‘Sorry I didn’t call you back, same problem my father had’. Hearing Kanye admit his mistakes and value his relationships with family and friends makes me realise that the dude does actually have a conscience. Perhaps he’s human after all.

Sadly, these moments of heart aren’t enough to outweigh Kanye’s titanic asshole ego, which dominates the rest of this album. When he’s not trying to justify his arrogance with arrogance: ‘name me one genius who ain’t crazy’, he’s poking fun at fellow celebrities and resorting to low-brow misogyny: ‘I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why? I made that bitch famous’.

Indeed, there are times when Kanye can be so outrageous that he’s funny – for example the ‘a blowjob’s better than no job’ line on 30 Hours. However, these moments of true wit are juxtaposed with an equal amount of bad and corny lines. One of Kanye’s worst habits is repeating the same bar twice as if trying to add some divine extra meaning to it, but quite often these lines aren’t special enough to be uttered once: ‘I made that bitch famous/ I made that bitch famous’. And then there’s the track ‘Facts’ which sees the Adidas partner throwing one big, biased, goofy tantrum at Nike. He’s changed the beat on the album version from the original single version, but really I think the beat wasn’t the problem: ‘couches, couches, couches, couches, which one should I pick?/ I need extra deep, I like my bitches extra thick’.

Needless to say, I’m not happy about the ‘gossiping, no-pussy-getting bloggers’ line either, although I’m not going to lose sleep over it as I’m actually quite satisfied in that department.

Anyway, let’s wrap up this rap review by agreeing that Kanye has made some baby steps towards being more likable since Yeezus – he’s proclaiming to be a genius now, not a God. The rapper does attempt to show some honest introspection and he doesn’t sacrifice his artistic integrity, crafting some truly creative songs. However, The Life of Pablo isn’t the holistic piece that former Kanye albums have been – it’s messy and piecemeal. And although somewhat subdued, Kanye’s megalomaniac side still can’t help but rear it’s ugly head.